From Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain
Papers for a conference at University College, London, convened by
the Jewish Historical Society of Great Britain
prepared by Aubrey Newman - 6th July 1975. Reproduced here with his kind
Penzance was flourishing in the early nineteenth century.
A community was represented on the body which appointed Chief Rabbi Dr. Nathan
Adler, and in 1845 had 11 Ba'ale Batim. In 1851 there were 30 appropriated
seats, 51 individual members, and the attendants on Census Sabbath were 16.
1841 Synagogue, New
Street. There are four seatholders
|Board of Deputies
(edited from 'The Decline and Fall of an Anglo-Jewish Community',
Jewish Chronicle Supplement, June 1933)
The earliest minute book of the congregation closes in 1830,
but the record is resumed in 1843 with two minutes books which thereafter
chronicle the subsequent history and decay of the congregation. By 1843
the community had become anglicised and Penzance was no longer isolated.
It had by then ten fully resident members and is addition these names appear of
outlying members resident in Truro, Dowlais (South Wales) and Aberdare. In
1845 the congregation was prosperous enough to purchase outright the lease of
the cemetery. Its lack of isolation is evidenced by the number of
Jewish causes for which is sent subscriptions, including sums offered by local
non-Jews. But by 1848 the financial burdens were beginning to press;
in that year contributions to the Chief Rabbi's Fund were discontinued and the
community was only represented for a short while on the Board of Deputies.
(At that the representative was normally resident on London.) The
community was obviously far advanced in decay. The complaint was made that
'the congregation had sustained the loss of several members'. and the balance in
the hands of the Treasurer at the end of the year was reduced to derisory sums.
Periodically the scale of contributions had to be increased and from 1855 the
collection was made in weekly instalments. The death of a member or his
removal to another town was a real disaster; in 1848 the number of
signatories to minutes was reduced to ten, and by 1851 was only five.
Thenceforth quarterly meetings were considered superfluous and it was decided
that half-yearly meetings were sufficient. In 1885 it was even found
necessary to hire a person to come over from Plymouth to make up a minyan for
the High Holydays. The advent of Isaac Bischofswerder and his numerous family
saved the situation for some considerable time. He was appointed minister
in 1865 and remained in office for twenty years. But by 1890 the situation
of decay had recurred; in that year it was decided that if no Minyan
should have presented itself in Synagogue by 9.40 on a Sabbath the service would
be continued without a reading from the scroll. The last meeting of the
synagogue was held on 7th March 1892; three of the Bischofswerder family
and two other (non-resident) members met for the annual general meeting at which
was recorded a deficit of £6, and the last wedding of the community took place
four months later.
In the course of the new few years the last of the
congregation died or else transferred themselves elsewhere. The services
of the minister were discontinued. No one now remained excepting Mr.
Morris Bischofswerder, a son of the former officiant. On the High
Festivals he would open the Synagogue and recite his prayers in melancholy
solitude. At last, in 1913, he too left the town. The Synagogue,
constructed in a burst of eager enthusiasm just over a century before, was sold
and became a Plymouth Brethren Meeting House. The fittings were removed and
scattered. All that is left is the burial ground at the back of Leskinnick
Terrace, the last internment in which took place in 1911.
© Aubrey Newman
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